Urban Meyer’s impact on the Big Ten didn’t take long to measure – both on the field and on the recruiting trail.
Within the first few months of Meyer taking the job at Ohio State, fellow Big Ten coaches cried foul when he launched full-on recruiting campaigns on players who had given verbal commitments. A common practice in the SEC, Big Ten coaches – led, ironically enough, by newly hired Arkansas coach Bret Bielema – complained that Meyer broke an unwritten rule in not respecting the unofficial commitments.
Oh. And then Meyer led the Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 season. Only a bowl ban put in place from the improper benefits scandal under Jim Tressel prevented Meyer from leading his team to the BCS National Championship Game.
Not bad for Year 1.
So what does Meyer do for an encore?
Well, forget about rebuilding a historic program. Meyer seems intent on rebuilding a once-proud league.
For years now, perception might as well have been reality. Big Ten programs were simply too slow to contend with the speed of the best teams in the nation – specifically those in the SEC.
Who better to put the Big Ten on the path to catch up with the best conference in America than the man who led Florida to two BCS national championships in three seasons?
The change won’t come easy, though. This isn’t a case where Meyer can simply bench or boot players who don’t buy into his system.
No. Instead, he will have to win. A lot. Like Pete-Carroll-at-USC a lot.
Carroll essentially designed the blueprint for taking a conference to the next level from what he did in the Pac-12.
At the time, the then-Pac-10 floundered on the national scene. After a modest first season as Trojans coach, Carroll took the league by storm, going 82-9 from 2002-08 (though Carroll and USC lost credit for 14 wins because of the Reggie Bush recruiting scandal).
Instead of accepting USC’s dominance, conference teams started putting forth the resources to compete.
Carroll didn’t have the power to kick coaches off teams or out of leagues, but that’s essentially what his winning accomplished. Teams who couldn’t keep up with the Trojans eventually fired their coaches in hopes of finding the magic potion to compete at the higher level.
The ensuing arms race led to coaches like Chip Kelly and Jim Harbaugh, who lifted Oregon and Stanford to the top of the league.
Now the Pac-12 features several high-profile coaches, largely because of the aftermath created by Carroll and USC upping the ante.
A surprise undefeated season is a good start for Meyer to mimic what Carroll accomplished.
For now, though, Big Ten programs doing things the Big Ten way will attempt to take back their conference.
It won’t be easy. The Buckeyes are prohibitive favorites.
Who will present the biggest challenge isn’t even clear. Wisconsin seems to pose the greatest threat in Ohio State’s division, though the Badgers would have to win in Columbus to derail a potential undefeated season. Penn State lost plenty of talent, but will get its own shot at Ohio State at Ohio Stadium.
Northwestern, Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State all have reasonable chances to win the other division. Only Northwestern and Michigan get shots at the Buckeyes during the regular season, though they both play Ohio State at home. One of those teams – in all likelihood – will get a shot at the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championships Game as well.
Meyer already has the system and personnel in place to win it all this season. Just as importantly, his team will get the preseason recognition needed to simply handle business on the field rather than worry about the politics of college football.
The Buckeyes are favored by at least six points in each of their games and by double digits in 10 of 12. For what it’s worth, Michigan is the team odds makers like within six points of Ohio State.
It took one season for Meyer to ascend to the Big Ten throne – despite not officially bringing home a conference championship crown.
Can anyone take Meyer and the Buckeyes down a notch or will an entire conference be forced to adapt to the new order of the Big Ten?